Tyranny of the Ought
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God."1
In much younger days as a young Christian I wanted to do the right thing and while I am tremendously thankful to my parents for bringing me up in a church where I heard God's message of salvation, our church did have a few legalistic tendencies. One of which was that we were made to feel guilty if we weren't regularly "witnessing" for the Lord. That meant we were supposed to be always telling someone about Jesus and how they could get saved. The idea was fine, but the methods and motives were awful.
I did my best to be a good witness but as I look back, most of those bumbling attempts at witnessing probably did more to drive people away from the Lord than to draw them to him. At those times I was so scared and uptight that if someone would have stuck a pin in me (graphically speaking), I probably would have burst.
There were a few other "shoulds" too. It was like this little voice inside my head saying, "You have to do this … you have to do that. You mustn't do this. You mustn't do that," and so on. I used to think this voice was God telling me what I should or shouldn't be doing. In fact, if the little voice in my head would have told me to stand on my head, I probably would have done it—at least where nobody would have seen me!
Fortunately, I was also taught to "test the spirits" which I did and discovered that this little voice inside my head was a compulsion from within, rather than a conviction from without; that is, it wasn't from God. It can be difficult to discern the difference between a compulsion and a conviction, but simply put, a compulsion is where one feels relentlessly driven while a conviction is where one feels more a gentle drawing. With a compulsion the little voice in your head drives you nuts until you do what it tells you to do. With a conviction that comes from God, there is always a sense of freedom because "where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty." One is always free to say, "No."
Just because a little voice inside your head "speaks" to you is no guarantee that it is from God or from God's Spirit. If this "voice" is continually plaguing you, it may be OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) which may need professional help and medication to bring it under control. It could be associated with one's need to be a people pleaser in order to feel loved by one's leaders and/or peers (I'm pretty sure this was a part of my problem). It could also come from one's need to get attention from one's peers and feel important because "God speaks to me." Or it could be from the evil one who knows he can't pull us down into a life of sin and degradation, so he seeks to "push us over the top so we become so heavenly minded we are of no earthly use."
I'm not saying that God doesn't "speak" to us or that God's Spirit doesn't lead us. Not at all. But we need a discerning spirit to know the true source of these inner "voices" or convictions whether they are from God, the evil one, or from our own neurotic tendencies. It begins by learning to pray the right prayer such as the following:
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please give me a discerning spirit so that when I hear an 'inner voice' I will know whether it is from you, the enemy, or from my own self. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. 1 John 4:1 (NIV).
NOTE: See also the Daily Encounter on "Arm-Twisting for God" at: http://www.actsweb.org/daily.php?id=141